Marc Benioff — His Critical Lessons & Leadership Secrets
After working at the database software company Oracle, Marc Benioff decided that it was time for him to go out on his own and form a company. Salesforce has helped Marc Benioff reach a net worth of nearly $10 billion, and the future looks bright for the cloud computing industry. That’s why I thought it might be valuable to share with you his critical lessons & leadership secrets.
Whereas Marc Benioff isn’t a stereotypical suave, clean-cut CEO, he remains one of the best minds in the SaaS industry and his visionary company is responsible for the overhaul of the IT industry as we know it.
When Marc Benioff launched Salesforce out of a one-bedroom apartment in 1999, he had big dreams that would lay the foundation for a new, innovative software model and industry, one that over the last 20 years has, in the words of Marc Andreessen, “eaten” the traditional model for delivering and selling software.
Marc Benioff, a pioneer of cloud computing, revolutionized the software industry in the early 2000s as the CEO of Salesforce.
He realized that enterprise software could be much better and cheaper. Of course, the solution was leveraging the cloud. In the process, his “1-1-1 model” also pioneered a new model of integrated corporate philanthropy: Contribute 1 percent of product, 1 percent of equity and 1 percent of employee hours back to the community.
You would certainly ask: How was Marc Benioff able to reach such heights of success?
It was his commitment to the technology and investment in himself and his people that created this multi-billion-dollar company. If you follow Marc’s advice on leadership, you can also take your company to new heights.
After a month of studying how Marc Benioff succeeded, I quickly realized that pretty much everything I learned in business school was obsolete.
Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur or an experienced manager, there’s a lot to learn from Marc Benioff about leadership and entrepreneurship. Critically looking at his business life and tracing his steps, you’ll find something to take home. Here are five lessons from his success applicable to any business.
Rule #1: Trust Is a Must
Trust is at the core of everything that a business does. You need to build trust with your employees for them to work efficiently. You need to deliver trust with your stakeholders who want to see your business succeed. And you have to build trust with your customers for them to choose you over others.
According to Marc Benioff, nothing is more important than trust at Salesforce.
He created a new department in his company a few years ago that is known as the Office of Ethical and Humane Use. The job of this department is to collect the concerns of customers, employees, and other stakeholders and relay that information directly to Marc. A variety of factors can enhance trust, but very little is as important as this: If you want people to trust you, do everything in your power to ensure that your team and your company practice the integrity that makes your brand worthy of trust in the first place.
That being said, never underestimate the power of marketing.
Salesforce.com is a marketing machine which Marc Benioff never turns off. At the same time, Marc never confuses slideware with marketing. If you are unsuccessful in delivering the promises on time then the clients would never trust you. Marc knows that trust is too valuable to ever squander on empty hype. Consumer trust is essential for building and sustaining a viable company. As previously stated, to develop or regain consumer trust, it’s important that your company act with integrity at every level of management and in every interaction with your customers.
One can argue that the sole purpose of marketing and communications is to earn and nurture trust.
The challenge with trust is that you cannot buy it or force customers to believe your organization is trustworthy. Your brand must work to earn trust. Every interaction is an opportunity to build relationships and nurture trust. Trust is stored and nurtured like money in a bank account. Your brand makes deposits into your customers’ accounts every day; they exchange that trust with you when they buy, browse, and share their private information with you.
At the end of the day, if you want customers, you need a name that is trustworthy and capable.
Anything less and you may find yourself skating on thin ice — ice that is likely to crack and sink your business for good should something serious occur. If you want to survive, grow, and thrive, trust is essential. Even if your main concern is profits and that’s the only goal on your agenda, be sure the customer element doesn’t go ignored. After all, the two go hand in hand: when your customers are invested in your business, you’ll see increased sales from repeat buyers. With trust, your future as a business is brighter than ever.
Rule #2: Stay Nimble
Part of Salesforce’s original vision was to disrupt traditional, on-premise enterprise software by replacing CDs with customer relationship management (CRM) delivered via the cloud. Today, that same drive to disrupt pervades the company — but getting a 60,000-person company to move like a startup is a different challenge altogether.
New discoveries are being made in the technology realm, almost every day.
The only way one can remain relevant is being innovative and brewing up with new ideas each growing day. Just recently, Salesforce launched the artificial intelligence technology, a feature that is set to skyrocket the growth of Salesforce github for the coming decade. Under his leadership, Salesforce has always had something cooking, waiting to be unveiled at the right time! Continue to strive for innovation or you will be left behind.
Marc Benioff’s Salesforce is known for their ability to change rapidly.
According to Mehta, it’s the reason none of their competitors can keep up. It’s not easy to redirect 5,000 employees, but Marc Benioff manages by inspiring total buy-in among his employees. Build a corporate culture of employees who are flexible and eager to adapt changes that will put you at the forefront of your industry.
In business — especially the early stages — having a vision is great. However, being nimble and open to new ideas is the key to longevity.
Today’s businesses must be flexible, adaptable — ready to take advantage of new opportunities when they present themselves. Long-established, deeply entrenched business systems can slow down growth. Business owners must be prepared to change, and change quickly.
Nimble businesses don’t talk about “how things used to be done“. They lead. They innovate.
Entrepreneurs are known for thinking outside the box and finding solutions to problems that are sometimes radical. But this is necessary to run a nimble business that can withstand and surmount the challenges of the modern business environment. Without decisiveness, organizations will stumble into bureaucracy, with too many people involved in decision making and actions taken far too late.
Rule #3: Crack The Puzzle
Marc Benioff was friends with Steve Jobs and he would often get advice from the Apple founder. One day the two of them met and Steve told Marc a few things he needed to do to take his company to the next level.
One of the things that Steve told Marc to do was build an application economy.
Marc Benioff didn’t understand what that meant and asked for clarification. The Apple founder’s only reply was that he would figure it out. Marc went out thinking about what this future of application economy would look like. He immediately bought the domain name AppExchange.com. A few years later Marc gave Steve a gift and that gift was the rights to AppExchange.com. Steve was surprised by the gift and asked Marc how he thought about the name. The Salesforce founder reminded his friend and mentor about his guidance.
If there is one thing that Marc Benioff has always insisted on, it is the beginner’s mind’ perspective.
For most innovators who are getting off the ground without any expertise, the willingness to learn and the open-mindedness is key for greater innovations. That is what has kept Salesforce at the centre of tech innovation for close to a decade. In addition, innovation isn’t just about coming up with the big vision. Successful innovation also depends heavily on the ability to execute — and a lot of that comes from persistence. And despite Marc Benioff’s energy and drive, patience is also one of his strengths.
When you start a business or a role within a company, you always have a plan. After a year when it doesn’t work, do you keep doing the same thing or do you start over?
Over the years, Marc Benioff has rewritten a new master plan for Salesforce. In the 9 years that Tien worked at Salesforce, he rebuilt his team with a new spirit and new plans every so often when the initial plan wasn’t working. This is the way to do things in the 21st century. When Apple realized that the populace preferred bigger phones, despite their initial stands on the phone sizes, they changed and made bigger phones. Amazon began as a bookstore online, today it is that and more.
Sometimes the best-laid plans do not work out in reality as you had planned.
Even as you stick to the company’s founding principles, always question whether your plan is working. If it is not, change it. When your role at the company doesn’t seem to be working, redefine it by employing new strategies. Always be ready to tear up that well-laid plan and start over. Marc says that you should always position yourself as the standard-bearer of some trend that is sweeping the industry.
Rule #4: Learn When To Delegate
Larry Ellison, the founder of software giant Oracle and a mentor to Marc Benioff early in his career, describes him as a natural manager. Walking the fine line between management and micro-management — between providing vision and being overbearing — is something only the best managers achieve.
The ability to take your innovation to the next level lies in the power of having a trustworthy and dependable executive.
You have to choose, very carefully, the people you have in your innermost circles. At times, you will just need to advise and give directions, then sit back and watch how it rolls out. That was well portrayed in one of Marc’s interviews when he stated, ‘I can only advise here, or it won’t work.’’ Knowing when to delegate is a major key to moving forward.
Similarly, Marc Benioff values employee feedback.
Committed to attracting and retaining top talent, the Salesforce model wants employees to feel good about the work they are doing and help them to contribute as effectively as possible. When Salesforce was starting off, one thing that Marc Benioff did was to make sure that every employee plays a key role in marketing the company. There were several training sessions every year even as the company expand to hundreds of employees. They wanted to train their employees on messaging.
For many executives, HR is a nuisance that gets in the way of “real work.”
This is another area where Marc differs. He’s prioritized HR and recruiting, right from the beginning. As you go through his success story, you can feel how much Marc cares about things like culture and team motivation. Marc Benioff states that this mindset of prioritizing people gave him the foundation of a strong, positive, motivated culture — something that continues today. In the end, success will not be measured by what your title is. If you are able to add value to your company and your community, you will eventually get the success and respect that you deserve and this success is something that you would have earned.
To move a company forward, you need people you can trust, who will do their job well and with integrity.
Delegating is tough for almost all entrepreneurs. But when your company grows, you need to let go of your one-man-band strategy and rely more and more on your team. Be fully aware that the success of your company depends entirely on your ability to find, hire and train qualified, competent individuals. For this reason, you got to play an active role in hiring and make it a top priority.
Rule #5: Business Is Social
One of Marc Benioff’s most unique qualities is his commitment to societal issues, from equality to education and children’s health. One quote encapsulates his philosophy: “The business of doing business is to improve the state of the world.” When Marc Benioff started Salesforce, he founded 1–1–1 integrated philanthropy model, whereby the company donates 1% each of its products, equity, and employees’ time to the community.
Despite the criticism, Marc Benioff remains steadfast in his philanthropic vision and resolute that his position as corporate CEO makes him an effective messenger.
Marc Benioff has used his personal fortune to make a meaningful mark on the Bay Area. In 2010, he gifted $100 million to build a UCSF children’s hospital in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, then tacked on another $100 million in 2014, with part of the money going toward an affiliate hospital in Oakland. Perhaps one of Marc’s biggest contributions is his immediacy and outspokenness on issues like women’s rights, equal pay, and most recently LGBTQ rights. He is considered and inspiration by many around the world and a global advocate for equality.
Companies who emphasize public service and volunteerism may notice a boost in morale, particularly if the employees value the idea of giving back to the community.
Employees who work together on a volunteer or charity project get to know one another beyond the typical scope of work. The work may even improve teamwork on work projects. When you allow employees to volunteer during the work day, you show them that the company cares about the community and emphasizes a sense of giving.
Think your company is too small to think about giving back? Think again.
By now, Salesforce technology has powered more than 32,000 nonprofit and education institutions; Salesforce and its philanthropic entities have provided more than $168 million in grants; and Salesforce employees have logged more than 2.3 million volunteer hours to improve communities around the world. Remember: Philanthropy isn’t just about big gifts from a single company — it is about the power of engaging others to make an impact on a specific issue.
Other than the big tax advantages, being a charitable business can do wonders for your brand.
Corporate Social Responsibility is one of the most important trends driving businesses forward today, with things such as corporate activism being at the forefront. Customers want companies to care about social, political and environmental issues. Through charity work, you can establish your position on various topics. Not only does this improve brand reputation for organic customer acquisition, but companies can attract and retain the best talent.
What I first observed as cheesy in Marc Benioff, I now respect as genuine passion. He really believes there is a revolution. If a business has to survive in the long run it has to focus on innovation. The role of a company in society is to make the world better by either offering products that make it easier to perform a task or find less expensive way of making a product.
By being different from others and putting the customer first, you can pave the way to success.
You can also change an entire industry by not being afraid to pick on big companies. Every year, millions of companies are started around the world. Most fail within a few years. However, Salesforce.com is an exception to that rule because it’s truly unique in its success and what makes them different from other companies is their idea and courage to go down a path that others didn’t want them to pursue when they were rejected by investors and markets were bad for business at the time.
If you can constantly innovate and add value to your customers, you can stay in business indefinitely without fear.
By size, Salesforce barely resembles the company that went public more than a decade ago, swelling from 500 people to 60,000 and from $50 million in annual revenue to $21+ billion. But its approach to innovation under Marc Benioff has held firm. It’s more than inventiveness — you also need to apply your ideas to solve real business problems, and then bring those to market as solutions that customers can use.
While not without his human flaws, Marc Benioff strikes me as an extremely intelligent, warm and compassionate leader.
He cares about doing the right thing, and his company, Salesforce, as well as its employees, are a reflection. Marc Benioff is obviously running a big organization right now, but because he’s so relentlessly curious and willing to take chances, he keeps things interesting for his industry as well as his employees. That’s a cool way to earn respect.
So: Listen. Write your own rules. Stay true to your fundamental message. Reinvent.
Not everyone wants to build a billion dollar business. Not everyone can, I get that. Learning lessons like these is much more about the mindset, than it is about the specific strategies you can apply. By observing the thinking of people like Marc Benioff, you can learn a lot about how they make decisions and navigate the world of business. How do you deal with your business problems? Please leave your thoughts below!
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.